Phil Bofia, former Waterville city council member and current City of Waterville charter commission member, center, stands between a counter protester, right, who chanted “All lives matter,” and a march participant, at left, who chanted “Black lives matter,” during a rally at Head of Falls on June 7. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve a resolution affirming that Black lives matter by combining different language offered by both a councilor and former councilor.

But the debate over that language proved divisive and also prompted another councilor to defiantly declare, “All lives matter.”

The debate over a Black lives matter resolution Phil Bofia presented to the City Council was resolved after councilors essentially added language to it from a resolution also presented by Councilor Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2. Bofia had offered a resolution last week, but Oliveira didn’t think it was inclusive enough and had offered her own.

Phil Bofia

At the meeting, Bofia asked councilors to adopt his resolution to show Black men and women “that we hear them, we are with them and we care about them, because that’s the community we want to be.”

The action comes against the backdrop of mass protests across the nation against police brutality after George Floyd’s killing at the hands of an officer last month. Protests have been held across Maine as well, including one earlier this month in Waterville organized by Bofia.

Bofia’s resolution asked the council to denounce police violence and brutality against people of color, affirm that Black lives matter, and reaffirm that Waterville is a welcoming community. Oliveira said she thought the resolution was not inclusive enough and should denounce police violence and brutality against all people, including homeless, gay and other people.

Both Oliveira and Bofia are Black and live in Ward 2. Oliveira, a Democrat, defeated Bofia, a Republican, for his council seat in last November’s election.

Flavia Oliveira

Bofia asked last week to have his resolution placed on Tuesday’s council agenda. It asked councilors to work with police and community leaders to understand the steps police have taken and can take to provide effective public safety and ensure accountability to city leaders and the community.

A member of the city’s Charter Commission, Bofia said Tuesday afternoon in a phone interview that the first he heard of Oliveira’s resolution was Tuesday morning when she emailed him about it and did not say it was her resolution. He said it was unfortunate that she did not reach out to him earlier with her concerns about his resolution.

“It’s sad,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Councilor Oliveira doesn’t recognize the significance of this moment and is basically helping to repeat the ‘All Lives Matter’ talking points.”

“Black people have never claimed to have a monopoly when it comes to police brutality and injustices,” Bofia said, adding that what Black men and women are protesting about is the disparity in numbers when it comes to equal treatment under the law.

Oliveira said in a phone interview that she felt his resolution should reflect that police brutality and violence against everyone, not just people of color, should be denounced.

Unlike Bofia’s resolution, the one Oliveira presented described details in the George Floyd killing. It also declared that racism and death continue to plague the country despite many pleas for change, and that Waterville condemned Floyd’s killing and all acts of racism and discrimination.

The last paragraph of the resolution was basically the same as Bofia’s except it started with “WHEREAS, ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ is a phrase engraved on a pediment in front of the United States Supreme Court, the City Council believes all law enforcement officials should work toward making this a reality.”

The last paragraph of both resolutions stated: “and THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the City Council work with the Police Department alongside community leaders and advocates to understand the steps the Police Department has taken and can take to provide effective public safety, while ensuring accountability not only to the City Council and Mayor’s Office, but to the public as a whole and the community of Waterville.”

Oliveira said the additions made to Bofia’s resolution were sent to her by resident Bryan Evans.

“I worked with Michael Mosley who organized the Black Lives protest in Augusta,” Oliveira said. “We combined both of them together. We like Phil’s ending and we like Bryan’s part.”

Oliveira said she and other people wanted to be part of the coalition Bofia and police Chief Joseph Massey are forming to discuss issues, but Bofia never approached her or others, and she represents him as part of Ward 2.

“This is all the Black people saying, ‘We have a voice, too, and we want to be heard,'” she said.

 

RESOLUTIONS DEBATED

Contacted earlier Tuesday, Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said Bofia sent his proposed resolution to the entire council a week ago and anyone who felt excluded could have reached out to him.

“Everyone knows each other, and they all have that opportunity to contact each other and talk to each other,” Thomas said.

But Oliveira said at Tuesday’s council meeting that she did not contact Bofia right away because she needed time to research the issue and speak with others about it.

“I didn’t agree with the way it was worded,” Oliveira told councilors at Tuesday night’s meeting. “I deserve time to actually research and talk to people about this, and that’s what I did.”

But Bofia said to her, “You are my councilor and not once have I heard from you on this issue until this morning, and that’s unfortunate.”

Oliveira said no one reached out to her.

“As an African American woman I feel I wasn’t included,” she said, to which Bofia said if she had contacted him he could have told her that the coalition with Massey had met and started discussions and he could have told her that others will be asked to join.

“Is there African American women in it?” Oliveira asked. She said she felt she was being belittled “because I’m an African-American woman, and I can’t be at the table.”

Mayor Nick Isgro said he wanted to “bring down the tenor of the conversation,” to which Oliveira responded: “My tone of my conversation is, I’m talking a little bit fast — that’s my culture.”

Isgro then said he wanted to make sure she was being heard.

Bofia maintained that, had Oliveira “taken two seconds of her time” to contact him, she would know that in the coming weeks, people would be asked to serve on the coalition. His resolution is not an omission, or endorsement of any organization, but a simple reaffirmation that Black lives matter, he said.

Councilor Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, went to Oliveira’s defense.

“I just feel uncomfortable with Phil (Bofia) coming on here and attacking Flavia,” she said. “Flavia is your city councilor. You should have gone to her with your proclamation and worked with her.”

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said the resolutions are similar and suggested adding some of Oliveira’s wording to Bofia’s.

“I agree with that sentiment,” Bofia said.

Thomas said Oliveria could withdraw her resolution and the council could vote on the modified resolution.

“No, I’m going to let my voice be heard,” she said.

Councilors rejected the idea of substituting Bofia’s resolution with Oliveira’s, with Oliveira and Smith the only councilors voting in favor. Francke’s amendment to add some language from her resolution to Bofia’s was ultimately approved 6-1, with councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, the lone dissenter.

The language Francke asked to be added from Oliveira’s resolution was the section about racism and death continuing to plague the country despite many pleas for change, and that Waterville condemns Floyd’s killing and all acts of racism and discrimination.

Also added from Oliveira’s resolution, per Francke’s motion: “WHEREAS, ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ is a phrase engraved on a pediment in front of the United States Supreme Court, the City Council believes all law enforcement officials should work toward making this a reality.”

The council then voted 6-1 to approve the resolution as amended, with Foss again dissenting.

 

STATEMENT DIVISIONS 

Evans, whom Oliveira said introduced the language in her resolution, called in to the meeting to ask if each councilor would publicly say, “Black lives matter.”

Foss was the first to respond, defiantly: “All lives matter.”

Francke said he was happy to say Black lives matter. “I have to point out I’ve been saying that for about a half a century,” he added.

Smith, Michael Morris, D-Ward 1, and Thomas all said Black lives matter, but Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said, “I do agree all lives matter.”

Oliveira said Black lives matter when all people are involved, including Black women, children and “me.”

“That’s when it shows that we matter,” she said.

Isgro pointed out that Black Lives Matter is an organization, but people also use the phrase “Black lives matter,” without necessarily referring to the organization.

He said every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. “And that does include Black people,” he said.

In other matters, the council, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to take a first vote to approve issuing general obligation bonds for $4.03 million, with Francke and Foss dissenting. The council initially was looking at a proposal for $3.93 million but made adjustments to that figure by removing from a list of proposed capital improvements $250,000 for a police firearms training range, adding $250,000 for airport equipment and adding $100,000 for fire department building repairs.

The council was also to have discussed the status of the 2020-21 municipal budget, but because the meeting went so long, councilors and City Manager Michael Roy agreed to discuss it at the next council meeting July 7.

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